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Illinois House District 10, Democratic Primary

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The questions

All candidates were invited to respond to questionnaires, although not all chose to participate. Click on a candidate's name to see the unedited response to each question.

Biographical information & experience
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Birthdate: 4/7/1967
Occupation: Self Employed (Since 2000)
Marital status: Single
Spouse:

Education:

Indiana University - BA (Biology)
Loyola University Medical Center - MT

Civic, professional, fraternal or other affiliations:

American Society of Clinical Pathologists (ASCP)

Have you held elective or appointive political office or been employed by any branch of government?

No.

Please list jobs or contracts you, members of your immediate family or business partners have had with government.

None.

Campaign information
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Campaign headquarters: 1054 W. Fry Street
Website: www.tomswiss.com
Campaign manager: Dave Warren
Campaign budget: This information will not be released.
Name your five biggest campaign contributors and the amount they contributed.
Family and personal friends.

What are your top priorities for your district?
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Economic development and job creation must be the priority in order to help suffering families. I believe in re-establishing strong commericial areas in the District.

Public safety is also a huge concern as drug trafficking and violence are deep problems. I believe that increased community awareness is key.

What is your top priority for the state?
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Resolving the State fiscal crisis without cutting necessary services and payments that keep our families going in difficult economic circumstances.

I am running for Representative in the General Assembly to make Illinois a state of opportunity where people can get good jobs and raise their families.

For incumbents, please list your accomplishments. For challengers, what unique strengths would you bring to the job of state lawmaker?
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The main strength I bring to the legislature is the ability to comprehensively analyze a problem to determine its foundational cause and the financial independence to vote in the interests of the people, not special interests.

The state public employee pension system is severely underfunded and paying down the debt threatens to crowd out spending on core state services. Do you support reducing pension benefits not yet earned through a bill like SB512, which offers state workers three options for earning future pension benefits. Should police officers and firefighters be included in a reduced pension system?
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When Gov. George Ryan left office, there were approximately 1.8 million people on Medicaid. Today there are approximately 3 million people on Medicaid. Over this seven year period, the number of Medicaid recipients nearly doubled. The biggest single problem, besides State pensions, is the fact that the State Legislature authorized and permitted a Medicaid program larger than we can afford.

Even with the tax increase—the largest increase in Illinois history—the State is unable to pay its bills on time.

Before Gov. Blagojevich took office, in order to enroll in the Medicaid program, you had to prove that your income qualified you to be on Medicaid and you had to submit to an asset test. Now all the eligibility tests have been eliminated. Now a person only has to provide one pay stub to get on Medicaid. So, if a person has seasonal employment—like a carpenter—and experiences a drastic pay cut during a winter month, that reduced-wage pay stub qualifies that person for Medicaid. If no one challenges that carpenter's eligibility, he can make $50,000 a year, yet he and his family continue to be Medicaid eligible. There is no longer any asset test. During the Edgar-era, re-determination was yearly.

Medicaid is important and healthcare is important, but what has been happening in the last five years, we have been crowding out private insurance. We are not finding more poor people to put on the rolls, rather we are enrolling people who qualify intermittently but stay on the rolls. In the past, there use to be a 12-15% turn-over in the Medicaid population: maybe 200,000 people would be added while 200,000 people would be deeded ineligible. Now, under the Blagojevich and present administration, no one is making an effort to keep only the eligible on Medicaid. The last two administrations have swollen the Medicaid population without providing any additional revenues to pay for it.

The problem is not in the Department of Veteran's Affairs, nor are there too many sworn officers of the law. 80% of the budget is spent on Medicaid, Human Services, K-1 through K-12 education and higher education. If the Medicaid program was reduced—through strict compliance/eligibility standards—to a rational 2.2 million recipients, the real poor would have better access to quality health services (testing, dental, etc.) and not stress hospital emergency rooms.

If you don't support a bill like SB512, how would you deal with the state's unfunded pension liability?
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The current pensions that have been accrued are constitutionally protected. No one is arguing about changing anyone's earned pension benefits. The question of SB512 refers to future accruals by existing state employees. The question is: Does one believe that the present pension system, with its present funding stream, is sustainable? The only credibiIe answer is: No!

The proponents of the status quo are arguing over the diminishment of the accruals of future (and unknown) earnings. That is like saying: If I hire you, I can't fire you because that would be a diminishment of your future earnings. The proponents argue: If you have been in the system for 18 years, you are entitled to earn at the same rate of earnings for the next 12 years.

I believe the pension funds are in worse shape than is currently portrayed, additionally their projections on investment returns are hopefully optimistic especially in light of the current market turmoil.

I believe we must own up to the fact that we owe pension benefits to the people who earned them up to the present. But, going forward, there must be shared sacrifice. There must be shared contributions by both employees and the State of Illinois. Failure to share this sacrifice will result in a bankrupt pension system in the next six years. There is no legal bar to the system declaring bankruptcy.

If Illinois keeps raising taxes and makes Illinois more jobs-unfriendly, we will get less taxpayers and the problem gets progressively worse. The baby-boomer population is passing through the system and there is no way of catching up. There were only eight years in the last thirty years that the State met its funding obligations.

Borrowing solves nothing.

Do you want the 2 percent point income tax increase to expire in 2014, as planned, or would you like to see the tax increase extended beyond 2014?
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I do not know what the world will look like in 2014 but I believe we ought to reconsider such extension options. Looking at the finances of the State as it exists today, I do not see any reasonable way we can forgo that tax revenue because we have not fixed our financial circumstances. It should certainly be on the table.

Do you support any changes to the corporate income tax rate? Do you support any other changes to the state's business tax structure?
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We must look at the Illinois corporate tax rates which make Illinois uncompetitive when compared to surrounding states. The corporate income tax is less than 5% of the General Revenue Fund which is inconsequential compared to the personal income tax and sales tax.

Arguably, if the corporate income tax were to be eliminated (presently ranging from 2%-5% of State revenue), a case could be made that we would attract more jobs. More jobs would give rise to higher personal income tax revenues including additional property tax and transactional sales tax revenues.

What should the state government do to create a more favorable business climate and to promote job growth?
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Illinois is one of five states that have lost population; and we have experienced a net loss of jobs. One thing is certain: whatever we are doing now is not working.

We have to talk to the people who are planning to do business in Illinois and find out their concerns. Illinois needs growth.

If the corporate income tax was the problem that prevented Catepillar from putting their last two plants in Illinois then this needs to be addressed. Illinois needs those 8,000 jobs plus the other 50,000 jobs we do not hear about in the media from small businesses.

The legislative leaders need to meet with the business community and pragmatically discuss long-term solutions. The leaders need to identify what retards job growth in Illinois and get it fixed. We have had two decades of negative population growth and two decades of job loss. Illinois needs growth and I do not know if cutting corporate income taxes is the solution. The answer lies with the people making the decisions to build the next plant or factory.

Lay out your plan for paying the billions the state owes schools, universities, human service providers and others. Would you support borrowing to pay down those bills?
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This is difficult because if future State borrowing is approved before there is fundamental budget reform, all we do is procrastinate the problem. The only pressure on the General Assembly to clean up the budget are the unpaid bills.

There has to be a comprehensive re-think in the way we do the business of the state. In the past decade, there were three major borrowing bills that were supposed to fix things but in fact did not fix anything.

Borrowing can be part of the solution but it must be a part of a greater comprehensive solution. Quite frankly, the leadership of the general assembly has not proven to the taxpayers that borrowing makes them any more responsible. Borrowing can definitely be a part of a grand solution as long as there is also real fundamental pension reform and honest budgeting for medicaid and providers are paid.

State legislative leaders are trying to give the General Assembly a role in negotiating contracts with state labor unions. What is your opinion of that?
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The General Assembly ought to have a role in negotiating contracts with state labor unions. There must be accountability by the executive branch.

One possible solution would be to have legislative observers at the negotiations. One must honestly question whether the present system works. The solution may not be the legislature, but there certainly should be a third party present at the negotiations that make sure the agreements made are in the best interest of both the State of Illinois and the employees.

The legislature has tried repeatedly to expand gambling in Illinois. Do you support expanded gambling in Illinois? In what form? Do you support a Chicago casino?
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To have gambling in Illinois, yet not have gambling in the number one tourist city of Illinois—Chicago—does not make sense. As long as Chicago can maintain the integrity of the Gaming Board, then Chicago ought to have a casino.

That being said, add up all the revenue from the river boats and add in the lottery, these revenues are inconsequential (approx. 3 ½%) of the state budget. Gaming is not a large enough revenue source to solve our problems.

As an historical note, it might be well to recall that one argument for the justification of a state lottery was that it would put an end to the old numbers racket in Illinois. And it did. Today's video gaming is yesterday's numbers racket. It's mob controlled. The historical predicate of the lottery may well be an illustrative lesson in this regard.

I may not be personally drawn to gaming but as long as it is not destructive to other people, I am not morally against gaming in Illinois whether it's a casino, the lottery or horse racing. However, there needs to be integrity with the gaming operators, so it can run efficiently and not be corrupted by politics or patronage.

Would you seek any changes to the state ethics and campaign finance laws? Would you support capping what state party leaders can donate during a general election?
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There is less corruption when the candidate is responsible for their own campaign and spending. The voters then know who to hold accountable. Artificial limits that hamper individual candidates are not in the best interest of the state.

The press has been talking non-stop for seven years how the individual rank-and-file has no access to decision making. The rules that discriminate against individual candidates but empower the legislative leaders is the wrong direction. If campaign contributions are going to be limited, the same rules need to apply to both the individual legislators and the leadership.

Although ethics reform is important, I believe that the single best reform would be to eliminate or severely curtail the legislature's redistricting power. Redistricting must be taken out of the hands of the political parties. Redistricting was never meant to empower permanent majorities. If Illinois is going to stop its culture of corruption, it must start with the re-map process. Other states have done it; it can be done. The time to begin the reform is now because no one's careers are in jeopardy.

Another reform would be to eliminate—over time—pensions for all part-time elected officials in Illinois. Legislators ought to declare whether they are part-time or full-time elected officials. If part-time, they can take outside employment but receive no pension or healthcare benefits. If full-time, then they are entitled to pension and healthcare benefits but no outside employment. The Executive State Officers, Speaker of the House, and Senate President should have exclusive employment.

Would you back a constitutional amendment to shift from a flat income tax to a progressive income tax system?
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The most effective taxes are broad based, low rate taxes. A progressive tax would probably mirror the mess as it exists in Washington today. It would generate a tax code large enough to fill a library. If the status quo is maintained, then maybe one should consider raising the personal exemption in order to affect gradual progressivity, e.g., change the personal exemption from today's level to $10,000—even in $1,500 a year increments.

Do you have a plan to adequately fund schools and reform the property tax system that results in inequities?
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We need to be honest if we are going to discuss education reform. In Illinois, we are in the top ten spending in the nation per pupil. The United States is number one in the world in gross nation product spent per child. The current problems in the education system are more involved than simple funding.

It has been statistically proven that there is almost no correlation between high spending districts and educational outcome. The single most important correlation to educational outcome is two-parent families.

We should have a discussion with the education community about how we can make the schools more responsive to the challenges families face today. If this calls for more funding, then let's find it.

It is indisputably true the US spends more money on K-12 than any other nation on earth. Over the last 20 years, Illinois is 8th (or 10th depending on measurement) in the nation with regard to spending on K-1 through K-12 per pupil. Our students do best internationally when they are in the 2nd grade. By the time they enter high school, our students drop from 4th in the world to 17th among the top 20 industrialized nations. The longer students are in our school system, the less well they do in competition with their international peers.

We have the shortest school day and shortest school year in the Western world. Japanese students are in K-12 schools up to 60 classroom days longer than our students. When Harry Truman was president, we initiated a 180-day school year and 5 1/2 hour school day. Today, in Illinois, the average school district in Illinois is under 171 days and only 4 hours per day. The expectations of an 8th grader are certainly no less today than they were in 1952.

All of the data shows small classroom sizes make a big difference in K-1 through K-4. The data is indeterminate in K-5-throught K-7. Above 8th grade, class size does not matter. In Illinois, our largest class size is in K-6 and our smallest class size is is high school. This is backwards.

We have known for over 30 years it is better to teach children language before they are 12. Yet, 90% of your language is taught in high school.

The system is not responding to research or the needs of children. We now know much more about brain development and learning, but our education system has not adapted. It might be better to double our investment in K-3 through K-5 and cut high school funding by 30%. If we lose a child by K-4, almost no amount of re-mediation will get them to college.

Spending, per se, does not correlate with academic outcome. Education in Illinois is a systemic problem and not necessarily a resource problem.

What is your view on gay marriage?
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The government should not deny civil rights to any individuals based on sexual orientation, especially hospital visitation rights, social security survivor benefits, priority in being appointed legal guardian if spouse is incapacitated, etc.

Generally, the government should stay our of people's personal lives.

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